Updated: Apr 28
As if the job search climate hadn’t been tough enough for international students since President Trump enacted the "Buy American and Hire American" executive order in April 2017, now international students are forced to watch the hiring pace of U.S. firms rapidly decrease due to the spread of Covid-19.
Those international students graduating this spring are likely to face unimaginable job search challenges in the coming weeks. But that doesn’t mean their job search prospects are dead. Here’s a list of key actions international students should take as they try to keep their hopes of finding U.S. employment alive.
1. Understand Your Goals and Priorities
Take a deep breath and ask yourself: What do I truly want? What is most important for me right now at this point in my life? Once you clarify your main goals, ask yourself: Given the new reality of hiring freezes and layoffs in the U.S., what changes do I need to make in my job search strategies to keep the American dream alive and still have a chance of landing a job in the U.S.? Manage your mindset carefully.
2. Continue to Ask for Informational Interviews
With the majority of the U.S. workforce working remotely these days, securing a 15 minute informational interview might’ve just gotten a bit easier. Below is a template you might be able to use:
Dear Ms. Kennedy:
First of all, I hope this email finds you, your family, and your colleagues all healthy. I’ve been taking the coronavirus threat extremely seriously, but have also tried to live as normal of a life as possible.
As an economics major originally from China, I’m exploring which career path to pursue after graduation. Public service, management consulting, and even nonprofit work at an organization such as the World Bank all sound very interesting to me. I feel, however, that I need a clearer sense of direction going forward.
Would you be willing to speak with me for 15 minutes (a one-time call) about your own career path, and maybe offer some advice regarding what I may want to consider going forward?
Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to hearing from you.
Aim to have a minimum of three informational interviews week!
3. Propose a Virtual Internship Arrangement
After each informational interview you secure, as opposed to sending a traditional “thank you” note, create a video to thank the person you spoke with,. Take the opportunity to highlight how your professional interests, skills, and experiences match the needs of the firm. Also highlight your ability to work remotely as an intern, and perhaps your knowledge of webinar technologies.
4. Help a Small Business Survive And Thrive
Small businesses across the U.S. are facing unprecedented challenges as we take every step possible to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and survive. Can you “lend” your skills and talents to these organizations at a moment when they need all the help they can get? Identify smaller employers near you that might be getting greatly impacted by the coronavirus crisis and reach out to them with ideas on how you might be able to help their business grow. Demonstrate your ability to turn a challenging situation into profitable paths for a business that you identify with. Consider using your OPT, for example, to help those mostly in need, and acquire valuable work experience along the way.
5. Accept That The Pace of Hiring Has Decreased—But Don’t Stop Searching
Expect even further delays from employers regarding your internship or full-time job applications. Readjust your expectations so you don’t get unnecessarily frustrated with the new pace of hiring, which has decreased dramatically for the majority of U.S. firms.
Similarly, expect more rejections than ever moving forward, as there may be fewer positions available that may offer sponsorship. But if you hear 100 no’s, don’t stop—keep trying. Do not stop job searching. That’s the worst thing you could do. Though the numbers are smaller, some people do get hired during economic slowdowns, and many professionals will get hired during this coronavirus event as well.
6. Consider All Scenarios
Would you consider extending your studies, or applying for a new college degree in order to stay in the U.S.? Or would that be a waste of time and money given your recent investments in a U.S. college degree? Would you consider working for free under OPT, for example, which is a right you have an international student?
Assess what matters to you most, and understand the pros and cons of your decisions by seeking appropriate counsel. Understand the short-term and long-term consequences of your decisions. Also, your home country may offer wonderful opportunities you may not have explored during your studies in the U.S. It is time to focus more on opportunities outside of the U.S? Explore all options.
7. Don't Lose Focus
As a job seeker who needs sponsorship and is under stress, you might find it is easy to lose focus and start applying for everything and anything. Do not do that. Maintain your calm and your focus. Due to the time constraints, and the given circumstances, do not broaden your search; that might diminish your changes. Instead, focus on function and sector areas that you fit, and don’t focus on job titles or specific firms. In general, increase your job search activity and focus in order to generate an opportunity quickly. Execute your job search plans with confidence and feel good when you achieve weekly goals.
8. Make Yourself Visible
If you don’t know what the American saying “out of sight, out of mind” means, Google it. Then take action and schedule several virtual appointments with individuals from your school such as professors and professionals from career services.
9. Place More Focus on Your Contingency Plans
During these volatile times, what will you do if your full-time job or internship offer gets rescinded and you can only remain in the U.S. a few more days? Similarly, what will you do if you don’t find employment and have to leave the U.S. because you have used up all of your unemployment days? Do you have plans in place to in order to maintain your status? More than ever, international students need to carefully design their job search contingency plans and plan for worst-case scenarios.
A Final—Very Important—Note
As a last reminder, it’s important for international students to maintain their non-immigrant student status even during emergency events. For example, F-1 international students currently on Optional Practical Training, known as OPT, should work with their employers to maintain practical training agreements that may have been impacted by the need to work remotely. Similarly, options such as Curricular Practical Training, known as CPT, which allow eligible international students in the U.S. to gain work experience related to their studies, may also be impacted.
More than ever, it’s critical for international students to maintain close contact with their university office of international student services to clarify whatever doubts they may have and remain in compliance. While international students who need sponsorship and are about to graduate from U.S. universities in May/June of this year may find it doubly difficult to find first-time employment when companies are imposing hiring freezes, it’s important to fully understand the benefits of the OPT program and leverage all its advantages.
Currently, F-1 regulations state that students who’ve been authorized for post-completion OPT must leave the U.S. before they accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment. Beware of internet rumors or “fake news” implying that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may relax the 90-day unemployment limit for F-1 visa students due to the coronavirus outbreak. Once again, during these volatile times, it’s critical that you double check and validate all pertinent immigration employment matters with the appropriate resources from your university, or via USCIS.
Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, a firm specializing in providing job search training for international students who seek U.S. jobs. He is also the author of The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, a job search guide for international students. Marcelo Barros partners with over 50 U.S. universities to provide extra help to assist their international students with their quest to find U.S. employment via an H-1B visa.